Former Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou said during a recent radio interview that many “teary-eyed” members of the public would like to see him run for a third time in 2020 “to salvage Taiwan”.

Ma, 68, of the Beijing-friendly Kuomintang party, was the self-governed island’s third popularly-elected president, serving from 2008 to 2016.

This is so far the strongest hint that Ma would consider contending for the island’s top job in the 2020 race. If he did, he would face the incumbent Tsai Ing-wen and whichever candidate was fielded by the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party.

However, despite being pressed by the radio interviewer, Ma refused to declare outright that he would seek a nomination during the KMT’s presidential primary.

“Taiwan should restore its previous peaceful, prosperous and pragmatic ties with China, while people with presidential ambitions should demonstrate that they are able to handle economic, energy and rule-of-law issues and formulate policy solutions to resolve problems affecting Taiwan,” Ma said.

Ma’s potential rivals within the KMT include former New Taipei City mayor Eric Chu, KMT Chairman and former Vice President Wu Den-yih and former Legislative Yuan Speaker Wang Jin-pyng.

Chu last month expressed his interest in running, while Wu and Wang, who have also been testing the waters, have not yet kickstarted their campaigns.

總統蔡英文與前總統馬英九步出總統府_(26851536660)
Ma and Tsai walk from the Presidential Palace after the latter’s swearing-in ceremony in 2016. Photo: Handout

During the interview streamed live online, Ma also took potshots at Tsai after she equated the 1992 consensus – between the KMT and Beijing on the one China principle – with capitulation of the Beijing-decreed “one country, two systems” framework for Taiwan.

Chinese President Xi Jinping averred that Taiwan must be reunited with the mainland. He also broached “one country, two systems” for Taiwan and claimed such a framework had long been agreed upon when Beijing and Taiwan representatives reached a consensus in 1992.

Xi’s speech, which he made on January 2 on the 40th anniversary of a tacit end of military face-off between both sides of the Taiwan Strait, sent shock waves across the island.

“Xi’s talk has been tough because he is distressed by the [diminishing] prospects of unification, but I must say that Beijing’s understanding of what the ‘1992 consensus’ means is quite different from our own  interpretation,” Ma said.

68E697D1-6104-4BFF-B12B-281D71ABA4F4_cx0_cy6_cw0_w1023_r1_s
Xi and Ma met in Singapore in 2015. Photo: Xinhua

Ma and Xi met in 2015 in a groundbreaking talk between leaders of the two countries. When asked about the chance for a second such meet, Ma said he would not rule out the possibility of him going to the mainland and perhaps even meeting Xi again.

Ma was born in British Hong Kong in 1950 before his family emigrated to Taiwan. His eldest daughter and her husband also live in the city, now a Chinese special administrative region.

Ma has been engulfed in many legal rows since he stepped down from the presidency, including being charged with divulging state secrets and being accused of conflicts of interest. However he insists that these cases are part of a politically motivated campaign by his successor.